To the one and only Donner.
This past year tested us all in many ways, but your strength, determination, and desire for a better life are only some of the reasons I have such respect for you.
Thank you for your friendship, patience, and support throughout my writing career.
I love your face, your crazy ass food combos, and the slew of writing ideas you throw out hoping that one day one will stick to a certain French Chateau’s wall. But for now, hopefully this will tide you over.
HARRY CHAMBERLIN WAS a bastard. A cold-hearted, manipulative bastard who was still managing to run my life from six feet beneath the ground.
If that seemed harsh, it was his own fault. He was a man of little kindness or compassion; my father’s relationships had usually revolved around two things, business and intimidation, and if you were one of the unlucky ones, it was a mix of the two.
I, unfortunately, fell into that category. I’d even go out on a limb and say I had my very own “special” category. One that included threats and blackmail. One that had driven me from my hometown of Chamberlin, California so many years earlier, and had kept me from coming back until now—the day of his funeral.
His wake, actually. I’d missed the funeral. I’d say that was an accident when my mom asked, but it had been one hundred percent intentional. The idea of standing by Harry’s grave and watching the people of this town pretend they were sad to see him go was too much for me to stomach. Especially when all I wanted to do was celebrate his passing. Because to know Harry was to hate him—that was a fact. One he’d worked really hard to cultivate. So why deny him that pleasure now?
I stared through the black iron gates of the property and noted the cars filling the parking area and long drive that led up to the main building of the family business—the winery. It seemed as though everyone in town was behind those gates today, and once again I was standing outside of them.
Nothing had changed, from my situation to the winery inside. The rust-colored gravel still complemented the olive trees on either side of the entryway, and the opulent fountain at the front entrance bubbled and sparkled with fresh water under the sunlight. It was beautiful. But that was the Chamberlin way. Always putting up a good facade.
I drummed my fingers on the roof of my rental car and then made my way over to the gate to push it wide open. This was a bad idea for so many reasons, none of which included the sudden pain in my chest. But I’d be damned if I let Harry give me a heart attack. He’d already ruined my life once before. The last thing I’d do was give him the satisfaction of ending it too.
“I hate you,” I said on the off chance that bastard was still floating around here somewhere, and then I inched the car up the drive at a snail’s pace and pulled into an empty spot.
I sat there for a minute, staring at the main building of the winery, the villa. It was a Spanish-style structure with terra cotta tiles and smooth adobe walls, and I reminded myself that I just had to get through the next couple of days and then I could leave. I could finally be done with this place and all of the ghosts and memories that resided inside.
After counting back from ten, I was about to push the car door open when a rap of knuckles on the window jolted me in my seat. I turned to see Ryan—one of my brothers—with his hand on the roof, peering inside, and I hit the button of my window and watched it roll down.
“As I live and breathe, if it isn’t my long-lost brother Noah Chamberlin. Long time, no see, man. You plan to get out of the car sometime soon or just sit out here all day?”
In a flannel shirt, worn jeans, and muddied work boots, Ryan had a smear of dirt across the dark stubble of his face, and I remembered many days looking that way myself.
But I’d tossed aside my jeans and flannel for a more polished look these days, choosing to spend my time on a computer as opposed to a tractor. Ryan, however, was the vineyard manager now, and it was clear he’d just come from the vines.
It seemed there was no taking a day off, even to mourn the loss of his father.
“I was getting there,” I said. “I was just reminding myself that I wouldn’t burst into flames the second my foot touched holy ground again.”
Ryan chuckled and straightened to give me room to climb free, and once I was out of the vehicle, he pulled me into a hug.
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